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Ethnocentrism, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Experience

June 14, 2019

By Tesfaye Demmellash

Part One – Reckoning with Ethnocentrism

One might say that the crisis Ethiopia is in today has to do with ethnicity in the raw, tribal consciousness pure and simple. But from a broader, historically informed and critical perspective, the crisis concerns not so much ethnicity simply as the politics of ethnic recognition or identity, particularly the obsessive forms in which it is practiced by the TPLF and the OLF. It has to do with the inertia of residual “revolutionary” ethnonationalism, specifically of the Stalinist variety.

We as a nation currently find ourselves in a political twilight zone between, on the one hand, the decline (and fall?) of the TPLF iteration of “leftist” identity politics and, on the other, the apparent rise to power of a coarser, less disciplined and directed, yet equally hyper-political and destructive OLF/ODP brand. Fundamentally at issue, however, is an underlying model or paradigm of “progressive” dogma, discourse and practice that has underlain and legitimized both of these (and other) brands of political tribalism in Ethiopia for over half a century.

Since the revolutionary era, going back to the seminal Student Movement, political life in Ethiopia has ever been dominated by the model in one flawed form or another. Essentially an extension of TPLF ethnocentrism, the OLF-ODP brand currently ascending to power is the last link in a chain of “radical” political projects that have for several decades turned Ethiopia into a testing-ground for a succession of ill-conceived sectarian ideological experiments.

So these are times that call for systematic analysis and critique of the political language, ideology and practice of our “progressive” inheritance. That legacy has helped shape the separatist OLF-ODP variety of overly partisan hyper-ethnicity as well as the TPLF brand of nationally corrosive identity politics, not to mention the Shabiya form of mainly Tigrean ethnonationalism in Eritrea.

The times also demand that a robust, unequivocal stand be taken by all patriotic and pro-unity Ethiopian forces against these and other iterations of divisive, ethnocentric political nationalism. For, at stake is nothing less than our survival, continuity and wellbeing as a country, as a trans-ethnic, multicultural nation-state.

In meeting this demand, we as a nation need to go beyond appeasing political ethnicism or seeking “reconciliation” with it. Nor should we limit ourselves to simply condemning and rejecting it, countering ethnophilia with ethnophobia. Instead, patriotic and pro-democracy Ethiopian forces need to develop a good conceptual and strategic understanding of political ethnicity/ethnicism as a condition of mounting an effective trans-ethnic national resistance against it in thought and practice.

Raw and Politically Overcooked Ethnicity

Ethnic identity comprises two distinct moments: it is historically given as an object (it is in part objective), and it also makes itself felt phenomenologically, as it were, i.e., it is relatively open to varying forms of subjective experience, perception and re-fabrication through claims of political narrative and representation and forms of party/state organization. TPLF and OLF/ODP assertions of “national” identity thus have a double basis in both historically existent, relatively spontaneousethnicity and deliberately formulated, contestable, mainly Stalinist, political ideology and practice.

In relation to the first basis, individual and collective identity or self is seen to be inscribed with such generally involuntary identifiers as native language, custom, history, region, religion, skin color, and so on. Identity here tends to be conceived in absolute terms as an immediate datum, a self-enclosed monad, a disparate entity, sufficient unto itself in its immediacy and particularity. In this approach, we see an escalation of distinct yet overlapping Ethiopian socio-cultural communities into separate, island-like, insular identities, hyperreal social referents.

From this naively “realist” perspective, social and national self is sought or approached solely or primarily in terms of naked ethnicity. Never mind that the identities of distinct local and cultural Ethiopian communities have actually been shaped not simply by speaking a particular language, dwelling in a particular place, or practicing a given custom or religion. The historical reality that they have also been shaped by trans-regional movements, expansions, contacts and socio-economic interactions is suppressed or ignored so as to maximize identity/difference out of all historical context and proportion and out of gear with contemporary developmental reason.

The second basis of TPLF and OLF/ODP partisan ethnicism is marked by the opposite extreme, namely, the wholesale politicization of ethnicity. TPLF and OLF partisans discovered their tribal identities to be available to themselves as political possibilities, as “raw materials” for the fabrication of ethnonationalism. In their Stalinist encounter with their ethnicity, they became conscious of the fact that immediate tribal self, existent naturally or historically, is politically surpassable and extendable; it can be inflated into an exclusive “national” identity. “Oromiya” is such a contemporary construct, largely the self-serving handiwork of the TPLF, as are all the other tribal fragments or kilils to whose mere dimir or additive sum Ethiopia is reduced today.

As practitioners of “progressivism,” ethnic entrepreneurs in Ethiopia discovered that tribal self can be built up (indeed, overbuilt) into an exclusive bearer of all manner of social grievances, recurrent narratives of victimization, constructs of rights of national self-determination, and ideological aspirations to statehood. It can be, and has been, weaponized for partisan combat and identity wars through global “revolutionary” ideology as well as through narrowly localized ethnocentric motivations, rhetoric and propaganda.

Through this convergence of extremes, the Woyanes were able to divide-and-dominate Ethiopia, turning it into a tribal imperium of insular kilils which the Abiy regime presides over today. In the first extreme, a cultural or local community in its spontaneous identity is often raised to an absolute “being,” singularly and nakedly existent in and of itself. Yet, in the second, identity as particularity, locality, and autonomy appears to dissolve in an inflated currency of global Stalinist terms and categories, thereby assuming generic, hyper-politicized content.

Each extreme causes loss of integrity, authenticity, and historical-cultural ground in the self-identification of actually existing, distinct Ethiopian regional and local communities. For all the official or rhetorical promotion of the value of “diversity,” formulaic, authoritarian state ethnicism of the TPLF variety actually homogenizes cultural distinction and difference. Stalinist party hierarchy and state bureaucracy stereotype ethnic and cultural communities as if they were all alike, reducing them to focal points and extensions of impersonal power, subjecting them all to direct manipulation and control.

It is thus a paradoxical perversity of leftist ethnocentrism, more or less practiced today by the TPLF and the OLF/ODP in particular, that notions and categories of autonomy, democracy and self-determination applied by progressivist “theory” to diverse Ethiopian local and cultural communities have been obstacles to conceptual and principled thought in terms of such categories. On the one hand, in its officially pre-cooked forms as well as raw, hyperreal manifestations, ethnicity is elevated to an absolute identity, dominating all other forms of individual and collective selfhood and generally untouched by critical analysis, if not by simple, often ethnophobic, condemnation and rejection.

On the other hand, since the revolutionary era in Ethiopia, Stalinist political ideology (marked by an expanded circulation of formulaic, narrowly partisan references to “nations, nationalities, and peoples”) re-invented ethnicity largely as a mere object and application of itself. In so doing, professed “democratic” politics in the country has ever reversed itself in an Orwellian fashion into dictatorship. The reversal has been particularly characteristic of the Derg and Woyane regimes and of their ardent intellectual backers.

So our “progressivist” tradition has had little or no resonance with the distinct and shared values, lived experiences, and autonomous agency of diverse Ethiopian cultural and local communities. Worse, its rhetoric notwithstanding, the tradition has generally militated against the meaningful local autonomy and self-government of such communities as well as against their national-democratic solidarity. But you wouldn’t know this from the contemporary and past writings of some of the nation’s very capable intellectuals, notably unreconstructed progressives like Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa.

Are we entering a “post-left era”?

In a recent writing entitled “Reflections on Expanding Ethiopia’s Democratic Space” (Borkena.com, February 5, 2019), Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa claim that the present EPRDF leadership has made a “sharp” turn away “from Ethiopia’s recent past such that it might be regarded as ushering a post-left era.”

They attribute the acute political “departure” they see, and lament, to “the new leadership’s ambivalent stance towards development,” or, more specifically, towards the “developmental state” as promoted by the late Woyane tyrant, Meles Zenawi, whose arrogant, dictatorial rule Andreas and Samuel supported and dutifully served.

There is much to quarrel about the notion of the developmental state as it has been articulated and enacted in ethnocentric form in the Ethiopian setting, but, leaving this matter aside, I want instead to raise here a more basic question. Namely, what has been the status and function of leftist politics in the Ethiopian context, particularly under TPLF-EPRDF dictatorship? Or, more pointedly, how has the EPRDF helped foist on Ethiopia a nationally debilitating sprawl of divisive identity politics in the name of progressivism?

The question is evidently not simply of historical interest. Raising it is of critical importance in recognizing the pattern of nationally disabling ethnocentric domination the Ethiopian people have faced in the past few decades in the name of “revolutionary democracy” or leftist politics. The question also has significance for undertaking today a national movement for systemic political change.

What is of concern here is not so much raw, uninstructed tribalism but, as I have suggested, a learned politics of ethnicism connected to a residual Stalinist brand or model of “leftist” thought, discourse and practice that works in and on ethnicity, itself seen to be given either naturally or historically. We as a nation face today the challenge of deconstructing the model as such and its ethnic iterations or series, even as we value cultural-local autonomy and diversity.

Able mihuran both, Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa have, however, been rarely in a position to take up the fundamental issue I raise here. Nor can it even be said with any certainty that they have had interest in the issue. This is so mainly because they have been high level advisors and functionaries of the TPLF-EPRDF state, going back to the early days of the Meles regime.

Consequently, they have labored intellectually within a political framework that regards the satisfaction of the partisan-authoritarian desires, ideological proclivities, and policy choices of the EPRDF, specifically of the TPLF. To this day, the EPRDF’s continuity in power and its ethnonationalist political project have remained the central points of reference for their “progressive” intellectual engagement, such as it is.

This is evidenced even in petty descriptive annoyances in their “Reflections on Expanding Ethiopia’s Democratic Space,” whereby the widely known and readily demonstrable fact of TPLF domination within and through the EPRDF before the recent changes took place is portrayed simply as characterization by opposition groups, as merely “perceived TPLF hegemony” (emphasis added). The suggestion here is that, in actuality, the TPLF has been a progressive, democratic ruling party all along.

In another paper entitled “Federalism, Conflict and Peace Building” that he wrote over a decade and a half ego at the height of Meles Zenawi’s infamous reign, Andreas had already told us how “a transition to democracy” was made possible in Ethiopia through “the achievement of peace,” noting also that “Ethiopia’s federalism…removed ethnic contests from the national political agenda.”

Unelected TPLF/EPRDF one-party rule remained very much in place when Andreas made these palpably inaccurate claims. As is widely known, subsequent years and events before and after the death of Meles Zenawi have made the arguments all the more demonstrably false. The claims are even more evidently given the lie to by the present state of the Ethiopian nation, which is marked by worsening, increasingly brutal, “ethnic contests,” recurrent social dislocation, and massive human misery.

So, a question that suggests itself here, one which I am only going to pose in passing, is this: when Andreas made the arguments he made about Ethiopia’s achievement of “transition to democracy” during the tyrannical reign of Meles Zenawi, did he do so in good faith? Or did he have other, extraneous motivations for arguing as he did (perhaps, interest in serving power rather than speaking truth to it)? Surely, Andreas has to have known better than his incredible claims indicated, claims which struck me as either disingenuous or naïve.

None of this is to contend, of course, that Andreas and Samuel and other unreconstructed progressives of the Ethiopian revolutionary generation are unable or unwilling to profess forward looking ideas and values in formally universal terms, like “democracy,” “federalism,” and “development.” It is, instead, to argue that the ideas professed have assumed operative shape and content mainly in the particular sectarian terms and codes of the EPRDF’s partisan-tribal priorities, intentions and projects.

While sections of the old Left remained progressive in intention, their profession of forward-looking ideas has rarely been, strictly speaking, an exercise in broad and deep political thought in the Ethiopian context. They have yet to acknowledge that the “radical” road we took embracing conceptually inert, formulaic progressivism, beginning with the Student Movement, has dead-ended in a divisive Apartheid-like ethnocentrism, in a vindictive, anti-Ethiopian and anti-Amhara fragmentation of the historic Ethiopian nation-state, a reactionary reduction of the country into neo-feudal tribal regionalism and localism.

It is not very surprising, then, that the universal ideas Andreas and Samuel formally embrace have circulated in and through the TPLF/EPRDF regime largely as platitudes. It was not entirely unexpected that the ideas have gained currency in narrowly partisan, ethnocentric form, often to the exclusion of their wider vitality and movement in the context of broad-based Ethiopian society and polity.

And, in helping rationalize and enact the TPLF’s conceptually barren and morally fraudulent “revolutionary democracy,” Andreas and Samuel have woefully underperformed intellectually relative to their capabilities for systemic and critical thought. They have been instrumental in assisting the TPLF twist the operative meaning of democracy to realize essentially undemocratic intentions and purposes. In the process, they have marginalized their contribution as mihuran, reducing themselves to apologists and enablers of the Woyane party, perhaps the most perverse and insidious ruling group in all of Ethiopian history.

Yet, Andreas and Samuel probably see themselves as having made a salutary contribution to the continuity of the Ethiopian leftist tradition. In their eyes, the reign of the Woyanes has been an integral part of the nation’s laudable progressive experience, going back to the Student Movement. They may not be entirely wrong in this self-perception, but their positive characterization of the tradition itself as one marked by “continually waged struggles” in which Ethiopians have sought to “find release from authoritarian rule and a stifling public culture,” seems oblivious to a glaring paradox of the said “struggles.”

For the “continually waged struggles,” stretching from the Student Movement through the Derg to TPLF “revolutionary democracy,” have consistently and tragically been contrary in their outcomes to their declared intentions. Put differently, the struggles have created a lot more problems for Ethiopia than they have solved. For the most part, they have produced, be it in effect or intent, brutal, bloody dictatorships and extremist ethnos inimical not only to the growth of an actually democratic, trans-ethnic public sphere in Ethiopia, but, more importantly, to our very integralnational being, and to the democratic betterment and flourishing of Ethiopian political culture.

The Derg and Woyane regimes have in their own distinct “revolutionary” ways produced even more oppressive “public culture” in Ethiopia than we ever saw in “imperial days.” And if recent events and developments that have taken place in the country on PM Abiy’s watch are any guide, a decades-old trend of “stifling” of peaceful and orderly Ethiopian public life is likely to continue under seemingly more “liberal,” confused and confusing, present conditions.

The conditions mark the ascendance of Oromo partisan-tribal politics led by individuals and groups who are given to breathtaking pettiness and pursuit of unenlightened “self-interest.” These identity-obsessed “elites,” if one can call them that, often appear to be even more exclusive and acquisitive than the much hated Woyanes have been.

Nor can we speak of an effective “system” of rule (“revolutionary democracy” or otherwise) in connection with the emergent power of the OLF/ODP and other associated Oromo parties and groups. It is to be admitted that the actual diversity of Ethiopian cultural and local communities is still enveloped by an overlay of inauthentic, serially fabricated, generic “identities” or ethnic kililsthat refer politically and ideologically to a residual Stalinist model of state ethnicism which the EPRDF still controls.

But, with the eclipse of TPLF predominance within the EPRDF, the robustly centered and ran ethnocentric system of Woyane domination appears to have come to an end. The apparent end of TPLF hegemony has not, however, resulted in our entry into a “post-left era.” Essentially, the old, Woyane designed and built ethnocentric political/state apparatus remains in place, though under “new,” reformist partisan-tribal management. In fact, so bewildering is the state of Ethiopian politics and government today that it can hardly be characterized as “post” anything or said to be undergoing any “transition.”

What the Abiy regime has done is open itself and the political sphere to all manner of groups, parties and movements (sympathizers, “competitors,” supporters, seemingly pro-unity outfits, and extreme ethnonationalists, whose association with Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinnet seems little more than rhetorical and tactical). The PM has simply additively aggregated the “old” and the “new,” and the residual and the emergent, bringing together in an uneasy mixture pro-change elements, on the one hand, and groups that are bent on maintaining the ethnocentric status-quo, on the other. The Abiy regime thereby presides over an ongoing crisis of both national unity/security and reginal-local peace and stability.

Indeed, Ethiopia today has no coherent, functioning system of national government or a political center to speak of. Partisans, supporters and followers of the EPRDF, including the learned class, may speak in terms of “the constitution” and “federalism.” But that is largely ritual talk. In actuality, the political landscape is fraught with lack of order, much of it instigated directly or indirectly by rogue elements within and around the EPRDF itself, particularly the TPLF and the OLF. Besides, the so called constitution as such, not just this or that article in it,  has ever been a source of tribal division, tension and conflict and of social instability in the country, not a fount of sustainable political-national order.

The upshot is that life in many parts of the country today is marred by uncertainty, recurring violence, lawlessness, and deadly ethnic conflict, often resulting in massive social dislocation and human suffering. Ethiopians today live in a time of unusual insecurity. Our national life is more disorganized, debased and shapeless than ever. This state of the country cannot be explained away as an outcome of government restraint in using violent, repressive means against forces of disorder.

The fact is, the Abiy regime practices “restraint” selectively, as its singling out for repression and harassment of the peaceful Addis Ababa resistance movement led by Eskinder Nega makes evident. In any case, restraint, real or feigned, should not be an excuse for the regime’s unwillingness or inability to use properly all necessary law enforcement tools and resources in maintaining peace and stability in the country. The choice the Abiy regime faces in this regard is not, as the PM himself often misleadingly claims, lawlessness or violent crackdown on agents of disorder and criminal enterprise. It is taking duly constituted police and legal action whenever necessary to stop unlawful activity and to maintain justice in the country.

What we face in the EPRDF’s fraying ethnocentric rule, then, is not a secure, coherent and viable political system but a shifting, shallow order closely tied to the changing fortunes, projects, motives, and tactics of particular parties, groups and individuals, including the PM himself. It is a sketchy structure that likely makes up in part a covert network of ethnic interests, groups and foreign elements that are often inimical to Ethiopia’s national interest, to the nation’s integral transformation, growth and development.

Challenging the Progressivist Tradition of Identity Politics

We often experience “tradition,” in this case, the chronic vexation that is “the national question” within the Ethiopian experience of leftist politics, as a paradigm of discourse, ideas, goals, codes, and practices passed down from the past to the present.

However, political traditions cannot be adequately understood entirely as historically pre-given and fully formed entities. Not static formations, they could be, and often are, opened up for revision, reformulation, extension or even transformation. Involving, as it does, willful engagement by assignable individuals, groups or movements for its evolution or continuity, “tradition” can more dynamically be grasped as a performance, an ongoing tradition-making.

In this sense, ethnicity itself, far from being simply a brute datum, can be – and often is – relatively open to a number of quite different political approaches, understandings, and practices. It is amenable to alternative forms of conception and valuation, and to various modes of political concern, ranging from the broadest, most enlightened and democratic to the narrowest, least informed and progressive.

It is worth noting in this connection a central paradox that has haunted the Ethiopian revolutionary experience since the days of the Student Movement. In our progressivist imagination, the social environment, consisting of “the masses” or distinct “nations” and “peoples” or social classes, is the primary mover and shaker of history. It has structural force, vitality and autonomy. It is a source of revolutionary motive forces and political agency.

Yet, in practical terms, multi-ethnic Ethiopian society has been conceived and approached not as an agentic environment of autonomous historical and contemporary forces and energies, but a passive, neutral space of massive partisan intervention and social/ethnic engineering. The Leninist-Stalinist revolutionary idea that society as well as nature is simply a resource to exploit for development, that it must therefore be taken over by a transformative vanguard party and subjected to extensive planning and control, has been central to Ethiopian progressivism.

This meant that politics was not conceived and institutionalized in association with an active, relatively open, dynamic social space of individual and collective agency, interests and forces, an environment populated by free citizens and communities. Consequently, leftist politics, particularly Stalinist identity politics in Ethiopia has generally not been able to incorporate in its conceptual, organizational, and practical forms the vital shaping, directing, and democratizing properties of its trans-ethnic social and national context. Instead, the political has generally sought to subsumecommunity and nationality within itself, within its narrow, insular, often exclusive, partisan-tribal hierarchy and bureaucracy.

When, in this way of “representation,” ethnic groups are divorced from the historical conditions of their formation and interactive experience and development, the social-cultural ground of their freedom and self-affirmation is undermined. Ethiopian “progressives,” past and present, have been trained ideologically and organizationally to eliminate concerns of the relatively free flow and movement of energies, interests and forces from their perception of social space. Their allusions to “nations, nationalities and peoples” have never addressed Ethiopian social classes or distinct ethnic and cultural communities as particular, autonomous, self-organizedyet intersecting and overlapping social beings.

Instead, what has largely taken place is a substitution of a generic, global, “revolutionary” model of social reality for actually existent free communities and localities. Stalinist simulations or imagesof the socially real have taken the place of the real itself. Ethiopian society has, in this manner, been mined by the Left for largely anti-Ethiopian, and specifically anti-Amhara, political narrative and nominal social agency in which “the masses” or the ethnos are portrayed as self-determining protagonists.

Yet, throughout the revolutionary era and after, actual social strata and groups in the country have remained merely captive constituencies of exclusive parties and fronts, focal points of the agenda, actions and identity engineering projects of particular regimes or would be regimes.

Against this tradition in Ethiopia of partisan-authoritarian closure or restriction of social-national space and impoverishment of the public sphere, what if a new progressive ethos allows diverse self-organized cultural communities and civil society groups to turn themselves into bases for the growth of parties that actually represent constituents and for the development of a more open and democratic political system in the country? I believe this is a reasonable hope, not merely wishful thinking on my part. We as a nation are capable of bringing about such sorely needed systemic change.

Involving a series of engagements on various fronts, including but not limited to ideas and politics, the new progressive worldview I have in mind would call into question ethnocentrism in all its partisan and local variants, reframe ethnic identity in part by grasping it anew in terms of broader socio-historical relations and processes in the Ethiopian setting, and transform the connections between those processes and contemporary politics.

Stated differently, we need to develop a new ethos of forward looking political thought, discourse and practice towards systemic change. A crucial first step in this development, in my view, is re-orienting our thinking about regions and localities in the Ethiopian context.

Locality beyond Ethnicity:Re-imagining Regions/localities

Ethiopian patriots and pro-democracy forces today face a challenging task. The task is that of re-affirming, renewing and revitalizing ties between aggerawinnet and akababawinnet, between the diversity of social and cultural life characteristic of the country’s regions and localities and the forms of integral Ethiopian experience that have imparted unity and broader national value to diverse cultural and local communities in the country.

Underlying this primary task is a critical awareness of the unworkability of traditional “revolutionary” conceptions of regions and localities in Ethiopia as island-like, insular entities or kilils populated by similarly self-enclosed, homogenized ethnos “represented” by correspondingly exclusive, self-appointed, tribal parties and “liberation fronts.”

By assuming that ethnic identity is simply objectively “given” rather than generated in large part by ideology (as partisan gossa populism or ethnonationalism), and by treating ethnicity as the form, substance, and horizon of all “nationality,” parties like the TPLF and the OLF and their intellectual apologists have for decades assumed a political position of enormously adverse consequence for Ethiopia.

This is the pattern of identity politics that the Woyanes and their Oromo counterparts in particular have followed for decades. Typically these tribal outfits operate within a residual Stalinist-populist worldview that regards the only or primary task of politics and government to be that of serving the interests of ethnic communities as such, perceived to be coterminous with entire regions and/or localities of Ethiopia. In this way, exclusively ethnic ideological elements, forms of discourse, and techniques of partisan organization are built into not only practices of ethnocentric power but also into regions and localities populated by diverse, intersecting or overlapping Ethiopian cultural communities.

It is this consequence of the conflation of locality and ethnicity that needs to be undone today and replaced by a new, more open and internally diverse, progressive regionalism that cuts across tribal identities, real or imagined. Diversity should be valued within regions and localities, not just in the context of the Ethiopian nation-state as a whole.

In valorizing diversity regionally and locally as well as in the broader terms of Ethiopiawinnet, we depart from the recognition that identity politics practiced through residual Stalinist categories of “nations, nationalities, and peoples” is entirely bogus in thought as well as practice. We set off from the awareness that there are different and better ways of realizing in the Ethiopian context universal ideas like liberty, democracy, local autonomy and federalism. In this connection, developing a new concept of trans-ethnic regionalism is crucial.

In making the case for such conceptual innovation, we also recognize that old-school leftist overpoliticization of ethnic/local identities in Ethiopia has been deeply problematic in a double sense. On the one hand, the extensive use of generic, global, Stalinist ideological categories, rhetorical conventions, and organizational tactics by practitioners of identity politics in the country has meant that universal ideas, like democracy and development, are embraced mainly as instruments of exclusive ethnonationalist self-definition and self-assertion. This has signified, in turn, a denial of the generality of progressive ideas and values, and inability to use such ideas effectively in addressing broader, trans-ethnic Ethiopian social, economic and political issues.

On the other hand, and paradoxically, overpoliticization of the affairs of Ethiopia’s diverse cultural communities by the likes of the TPLF and the OLF and by the state apparatus at the “federal” and regional/local levels has meant failure to come to terms with the particularities of distinct ethnic, cultural and local communities in the country. It has signified a political sleight of hand with which the representation of the distinct and shared interests of such communities is not effectively realized but pre-emptively marginalized by the partisan agenda and power interests of practitioners of ethnonationalism.

Against these contradictory trends, the new regionalism to be developed must be sensitive towards the felt needs and interests of the nation’s diverse communities, and, above all, to their autonomous trans-ethnic cultural, socio-economic and political agency. It should also be attentive to the sorts of broader ideas and values that ethnonationalists have generally tended to ignore or suppress. These values include practicable, actually working rule of law, human and individual rights, democracy, real regional and local self-government, social stability and security, and national unity.

To be continued…Part Two (Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Experience)



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